Four Proven Strategies That Can Help Make You a Better Decision-Maker
Overwhelmed. I sat with the application for graduate school in my hands, but for some inexplicable reason, I could not make a decision. For weeks, I could not put the stamp on the envelope and mail it in.
What-if’s paralyzed me. What if I hate it? What if I love it? What if I am terrible at school? What if I am great at school? What if it has been too long since I’ve been in school? What if it is too much for me to handle? What if I am too old?
The negative thoughts were endless.
I always wanted to go to graduate school. Me, the plumber’s daughter who barely thought it possible that I might go to college at all, wanted to go to graduate school.
My husband, the courageous one, said, What have you got to lose? If this is not the right program, you could simply switch and try something else you might like better.
I could? That seemed too easy. Surely there must be something else I am not considering. I felt an immense pressure to make the right decision, the perfect decision.
Isn’t that what traps us all at times – the pressure to get things right, perfect? Decisions, it seems, weigh heavily. Trapped underneath the weight of ought’s and should’s and must’s and if’s, we can find ourselves teetering on the brink of collapse at the very notion of what might befall us.
So, how do we know if we’re making a good decision? What is there that can help us feel more confident about taking the next step, whatever that step may be?
There are four proven strategies I’ve learned that can help make you a winning decision-maker.
1. Learning the Art of Calm. I don’t know about you, but when faced with a decision, I can almost feel my blood pressure rise and my heart start pumping faster. My mind is dizzy and scattered. I can’t feel confident about any decision when I am physiologically stressed because it shifts me into fight or flight mode. My thinking becomes confused and disorganized, which makes decision-making even more difficult.
Learning to calm our bodies and quiet our minds with deep-breathing techniques, helps us to release all of the thoughts flooding our minds so we can arrive at a place where we are mentally and physically calm and centered. We can never make healthy decisions when we are in a stressed state, which is why this step is vital. Some of my worst decisions have been made when I made knee-jerk decisions in a moment of stress or emotion.
2. Developing the Habit of Information-Gathering. When faced with a decision, my “go-to” power step is to begin gathering information. Are there articles I can read online? Is there an expert in the field to whom I can ask questions? Does this fit me – my personality, my strengths and weaknesses, my beliefs and values? Does this feel like a natural extension of where I am going or does it feel like a left turn?
There are no right or wrong answers. We just won’t make a well-informed decision without the answers to some of these questions. For me, the additional benefit to developing the habit of research is that is helps calm me. As I gather information, I usually feel less overwhelmed. I can see the picture more clearly. The more detailed information I collect usually provides a sense deep inside as to whether something feels right or not. Some people may call this their gut instinct, I call it my inner voice, that distinct, loving, compassionate voice of the Holy Spirit, moving and breathing inside of me. Longing to speak in only the way He can speak. Beckoning me. As I gather information prayerfully, the pathway before me usually becomes more clear, more illuminated.
3. Committing the decision to prayer. So I come to this place. I've calmed myself. I've done my best to gather information and wisdom that will help me make the best decision possible. Now I cover my decision in prayer. I release. I submit - my will for God's, my plans for His, knowing that His will is infinitely better, His thoughts infinitely higher than mine could ever be. In this moment I am free. In casting my cares upon Him, He will order my steps. I need not fear.
For me, I don't want my strategies. I don't want my will. I want His will more than anything. Prayer releases whatever hold I may have, whatever desire to which I may cling. Prayer prepares me to step out, though I may not be able to see where I am going. The outcome may be hazy and unclear, but my identity, my passion and my purpose gives me the courage to move. My destination is owned by my Heavenly Father and that is forever crystal clear.
4. Daring to Take the Next Step. So I step. Out into the unknown at times. But I step. I’ve learned that paralysis will never yield the result I want, nor will it lead me where I want to go. I have learned through the years that most decisions do not carry life-or-death, all-or-nothing outcomes. Every decision can be an opportunity to learn and grow.
If somehow along the way, I made a mistake, that is okay. I don’t have to get everything right the first time. I certainly don’t have to be perfect. I just have to try my best. And if for some reason, I did take a left turn —well, I can calm myself, gather more information, and take another step in a different direction.
Ultimately, individuals who are actively involved in taking steps in their lives, even if they make a mistake, build a forward momentum that carries them where they want to go.
What is the decision you face today?
What is the weight that looms over you, that threatens to paralyze you and keep you trapped right where you are?
Don’t let a decision overwhelm you. Don’t fight against it. Don’t run from it.
Walk right up to your decision,
learn the art of calm,
develop the habit of information-gathering,
commit your decision to prayer,
and dare to take the next step!
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I'd love to hear about how you've approached decisions in your life and how you've dared to take the next step!
Lisa Murray, LMFT
Director of Counseling Ministries